Brooklyn, New York, USA - Meyer Levin School for the Performing Arts held their fortieth Winter Concert this past weekend. It evoked a lot of phenomenal performance history here, in addition to documenting the continued existence of an abundance of gifted, committed and talented youth in a thriving community.
The show began promptly at the advertised time of 6:00 p.m., but the auditorium was packed nearly to capacity long before that, with a roar, a buzz, and with holiday colors and a clamor of camaraderie and excitement. Laughter, singing children, adoring siblings, friends, proud educators and family members alike filled the hall with an abundance of joy and good feelings.
Attendees awaits the start of the 2018 Winter Concert at The Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts
And then the show began; a seamless, uninterrupted stream of homegrown talent took center stage, showcasing tomorrow’s leaders, educators and performers in dance, music, theatre and the business of music and entertainment. A few of the teachers entrusted with this duty at Meyer Levin, and who are stepping up to the plate big-time are: Ms. Murphy (Chorus); Mr. Oberlin (Band); Ms. Rodriguez (Theatre), and; Ms. Maxwell (Art). The fruits of their ongoing dedication to their young charges were proudly showcased in concert on this night via enthusiastically-received presentations and performances.
Dancers perform at the 2018 Winter Concert at The Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, New York
Every role of the entertainment industry was engaged and created learning experiences for the young scholars. The students’ tasks placed them in roles such as ushers, press correspondents, photographers, set designers, sound and lighting assistants... Indeed, every role they would encounter in a professional setting. And therein lies the greatness of The Meyer Levin School of the Performing Arts, as dedicated and concerned educators successfully challenge, teach, inspire the students to fulfill their dreams, and reach their full potential through a host of show experiences (both behind the scenes and on the stage). It is important to note that Damany James is himself a successful alum of this program at Meyer Levin.
One of the steel orchestras of Meyer Levin performs during the 2018 Winter Concert
Again at this year’s concert - educators, parents and community residents saw the brilliance, growth and genius of their youth. One of these promising youth of the very recent past has come full circle. The name Damany James is already firmly established as one of the up-and-coming steelband arrangers who will challenge the global cadre of steelband arrangers. And it is this writer’s opinion that Damany is blessed with the talent, disposition and work discipline to potentially end up as one of the steelband music greats. In addition, he represents what can happen when schools like Meyer Levin are supported and given the necessary resources to nurture, and support the genius and talent of their students.
This past November Damany James became the steelband instructor of Meyer Levin. He follows in the footsteps of Meyer Levin’s steelband music program founder and NYC BOE (New York City Board of Education) steelband trailblazer, Tichard Chapman who has since relocated to Georgia. Damany has already begun to maintain and build on an excellence that the school’s program has displayed in the years since its inception. In a similar vein to the music approach of Dr. Connor, Dr. Bishop and Dr. Batson - Damany has Meyer Levin’s steel orchestras providing musical accompaniment for/with all aspects of the performing arts including theatre, band, chorus and dance.
In spite of all the great vibes and karma which were generated and displayed at the show - one cannot lose sight of what might not have been. It was only a short while ago that the same hall was the site of what would be designated as a war zone over the city’s and Mayor de Blasio’s move on the school with bad intentions as part of their ‘charter school’ program. This no doubt would have resulted in the destruction of the prestigious, decades-old performing arts program of Meyer Levin. Furthermore, the public ‘dismissal’ of the community’s existence during the hearings, gave an open invitation to perpetration of the violence of gentrification on this vibrant community.
Fortunately, as a result of an enormous push back from the community and educators of Meyer Levin, the school was spared from the city’s plans.
Damany “Bob” James
The following is a short conversation with Damany James relative to his appointment as steelband instructor.
WST - “When did you officially become steelband instructor of Meyer Levin?
Damany J. - “On November 1st, 2018 we celebrated Tichard’s endless dedication to the Meyer Levin Intermediate School (285) and renamed the auditorium the Razziano/Chapman Auditorium. This was the start of my journey as the newly-appointed Steelband Instructor.”
WST - “How many steelband classes are there besides the ‘beginners’?”
Damany J. - “My first few days, I took the time out to get acquainted with the students as well as the new work schedule. My day starts at 8 a.m. every morning with my Advanced Steel Band. They don’t have class until 8:50 so they come to make sure they’re early for class and for a little fun before a long day of work. After that I have my 8th grade steel pan class, then my 7th grade steel band followed by my 6th grade steel band spread throughout the earlier portion of the day. Then in the afternoons the Advanced Steel Band goes to get a snack and comes back to rehearse from 4-6 p.m. Those are the bands that I arrange and manage. The Beginners band, however, was our guest-featured band for our intermission show. The Beginners are all from Higher Levin Inc. under the new musical leadership of Jeffrey Jean.”
WST - “You were responsible for not only showcasing the steel orchestras’ main performances, but also for providing steel orchestra accompaniment for the theater and choral components of the show, along with a joint presentation with the brass band. How did this come about? Talk about the arrangement of the music pieces, joint rehearsal aspects, etc.
Damany J. - “With this being my first concert I wanted to do a few collaborations with some of the staff that’s in the performing arts department. Aside from steel band and drums I always loved the sound that came from a saxophone, so I already knew I wanted to do a song and have the sax accompany us.
“So after finishing “This Christmas” with the Advanced Steel Band I had a feeling it would be the perfect opportunity to feature Mr. Oberlin, (Band Instructor), on sax. The rehearsals for the finale pieces were a lot of fun. Working in our individual classes on the same piece and then coming together to put the ending on was “show biz”! I think working with the performing arts team at Meyer Levin is nothing short of a dream job. I just really enjoy the fact that a quote I came up with years ago is becoming my reality!
“It’s more than just a hobby, It’s a lifestyle!”
“Congratulations to the 7th Grade Steel Band, 8th Grade Steel Band, The Advanced Steel Band & the entire performing arts department.”
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